Low vaccination rates are a growing concern amid a new wave of COVID-19 infections in Africa, where nearly 227,000 deaths have been reported, according to the Africa CDC’s COVID-19 dashboard. Only 20 African countries had vaccinated at least 10% of their population by mid-December, according to the United Nations.
Access to vaccines is a major stumbling block.
Vaccines have been slow to arrive from richer countries; when this is the case, there may not be enough infrastructure to ensure timely distribution. On December 22, the Nigerian government destroyed more than one million doses of the donated AstraZeneca vaccine that officials said could not be used before the expiration date.
Meanwhile, the African Union and its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to expand vaccine manufacturing on the continent.
But, “even in countries where vaccines are being rolled out, there may be administrative and other obstacles that prevent refugees from getting vaccinated,” said Aikaterini Kitidi, spokesperson for the United Nations agency. for refugees, or UNHCR.
Some countries “require identity documents, which refugees often do not have,” she added. “Others have settled online [registration] systems that can deter or prevent people who do not have Internet access or are not computer literate. “
Another challenge is misinformation.
This “strongly impacts the vaccination process and prevents people from coming,” said Dr Martin Kalibuze, who heads the vaccination program in the Uvira refugee camp in South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. . “There are a lot of rumors, like ‘people will die from vaccination, women will become infertile’.”
Sifa Akimana, a 28-year-old Burundian refugee living in the Kavimvira transit center in DRC with her two babies, told VOA’s Central Africa service that she was against vaccination because “I hear people say that if you are vaccinated it is very dangerous. It is a way of controlling the movements of people with their detective machines.
Kalibuze said any vaccination campaign first requires a strong awareness campaign to smooth the way.
There is at least one other barrier to COVID vaccination: competing priorities.
All over Africa and elsewhere, especially in IDP areas, “ministries of health have so many different crises that they have to deal with what COVID is not always at the top of their list,” said Jason Straziuso, spokesperson for the International Committee. of the Red Cross (ICRC).
For example, he said, they might decide it’s wiser to invest in more mosquito nets to protect against malaria, a historically fatal disease that the WHO says has killed 627,000 people. than in 2020, mainly young African children.
The ICRC does not distribute the vaccines itself, but rather partners with ministries of health and National Red Cross Societies, Straziuso said, noting that it depends on these connections “to get around disputed areas. and carry out vaccination campaigns “.
Straziuso said the organization hopes to “do a lot more in 2022” to help vulnerable people, including refugees and internally displaced people. “There are just millions of people who do not have access to these vaccines,” he said. “So, it’s a slow and long process.”
Vedaste Ngabo Ndagijimana reported for VOA’s Central Africa service from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Carol Guensburg reported from Washington, DC